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Hiking to Chilnualna Falls and Beyond

This is my favorite time of year to hike up to Chilnualna Falls, when a little snow has fallen and the creek is decorated with ice. The hike has a lot of “up” in it, one reason that I like to pick a cool day to do it. After reaching Chilnualna Falls, we headed upstream a bit to a very pretty lunch spot where the icy creek was lined with pristine snow.

Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: 9.39 Miles (8.4 miles if you stop at the upper falls)
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Range: 4,170′ – 6,675′
Date: December 11, 2018
Maps: El Capitan Topographic Quad
Dog Hike? No

From Wawona, we drove down Chilnualna Road toward the end of the road, just shy of the bridge and to the signed Trail Parking Lot on the right hand side, about 100 yards shy of where the pavement ends and right next to the large home where they have been doing construction for many years. There are actually two parking areas at this location, one of them down the dirt road by the bear boxes and a small parking area up on the road. There is a restroom, which we checked out before hitting the trail. We followed the signs up to the trail.

We had hiked a little over a mile when we reached the base of Chilnualna Falls and its beautiful pool. Chilnualna Falls is not a single waterfall, but actually a series of 5 tiers of waterfalls, dropping a total of about 700 feet. Wawona’s Yesterdays, by Shirley Sargent, says that according to one source Chilnualna was named by the Piute Indians and means “leaping waters” but that another Wawona native insisted that an Indian told him that Chilnualna means “many rocks” because the falls are in a very rocky canyon. If you are curious how to pronounce this name, it is an easy one once you get the hang of it. Give it a try: “Chil-noo-al-na.”


Photo by Gail Gilbert

We continued up the trail.

Just before we reached the largest of the falls, we met our first snow and ice on the trail but we were able to navigate through it without putting our ice traction devices that we had brought along on.

What a wonderful sight to find the creek lined with ice as the largest of the waterfalls drops out of sight.

As I looked upstream, the rocks had clumps of snow on them.

And another set of falls upstream looked very pretty with those snow hats on the rocks.

We headed up the trail and looked back to see the fog blanketing the San Joaquin Valley.

Onward up the trail!



The trail reached a well signed junction, not taking the trail on the left that headed to Buck Camp, Glacier Point and Yosemite Valley.




We followed the trail signs toward Chilnaulna Lakes but our goal was to stop where the trail crossed Chilnualna Creek about 1 mile or so ahead..




We made it to the creek although it was a bit tougher going than we had planned, walking on the snow covered trail with a foot or so of snow at the deeper areas. For me, the trail was easy to follow even though it was covered in snow. Cut logs along the trail and the slight indentation of the trail were visible. Oh, and we followed bear tracks most of the way on the trail. But with more snow on the way, if you are not familiar with this trail, you will need to pay attention or you can lose the trail.

Our usual lunch rock area was covered in snow but we found a substitute rock.

You just needed to admire the view.

And as we took a closer look, we could see icicles lining the creek.

Photo by Gail Gilbert


It was time to start heading down.

Photo by Gail Gilbert

We had a very good workout but you don’t need to go as far as we did. You could walk up to the lower falls and see a very pretty view. We could see the faint remains of ski tracks as we climbed past the falls so someone had ventured up here before we had and probably made it even farther up the trail. Oh, and I forgot to add that our car was the only one in the parking lot and we didn’t see anyone on the trail all day.

Photo of Me by Gail Gilbert

Dog Hike? No

Dogs are not allowed on the Chilnualna Trail.

Where Pets Are Not Allowed

  • On trails, including the trail to Vernal Fall (however, pets are allowed on the Wawona Meadow Loop)
  • On unplowed roads covered in snow
  • In undeveloped and wilderness areas
  • In public buildings
  • On shuttle buses
  • In lodging areas
  • In all walk-in and group campgrounds/campsites, including Camp 4
  • In any other areas, as signed

These regulations protect both pets and wildlife from disease and each other. The National Park Service has prohibited pets on trails for many years. In particular, some pets chase wildlife, pollute water sources, and can become defensive and dangerous in unfamiliar surroundings. Pet owners have the burden to assure their pet does not damage the park values for others in those areas where pets are allowed.

Yosemite Hospitality operates a dog kennel in Yosemite Valley from approximately late May through early September. Written proof of immunizations (rabies, distemper, parvo, and Bordetella) must be provided. Dogs must be at least 20 pounds (smaller dogs may be considered if you provide a small kennel). You can get more information about the kennel by calling 209/372-8326.

Maps and Profile:

Chilnualna Falls Doarama

Chilnaulna Falls Topographic Map

Chilnaulna Falls Profile


Wawona’s Yesterdays (1961) by Shirley Sargent

Chinualna Falls Wikipedia

Prior Blogs in this Area:

Hiking to Chilnualna Falls and a Smidge Beyond December 18, 2017

Chilnualna Falls Hike March 16, 2016

Chilnualna Falls Hike January 5, 2015


  1. What temperature do you think it was on the day you were there?

    • Thank you for your question MT. It was about 24 degrees when we started from the car. I don’t know what temperature it warmed up to but I went down to short sleeves in the afternoon, guessing high 40’s or low 50’s for the high.

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